View Full Version : Creative solutions FAISAL BARI - 3rd July 2015

3rd July 2015, 12:40 PM
DESPITE the progress, and the claims that have been made about it, a significant percentage of schools in Punjab continue to be either single-teacher or schools that still have multi-grade teaching.

It is estimated, that setting aside the need to cater for retirements, or to expand the system to allow out-of-school children to get enrolled, some 50,000 additional teachers are needed, right now, to end multi-grade teaching in Punjab alone. The situation is no different in the other provinces, though the numbers will be smaller.

If the state wants to fulfil all its promises of ‘free and compulsory’ quality education for children aged five to 16 years in the country, the need for expansion will clearly be much larger. These are the facts.

The shortage of female teachers for mathematics and science is felt everywhere in the country.
On the other hand, we are also seeing that gender gaps — in the numbers of those enrolled — in the urban areas at least, have narrowed substantially over the last few decades. There are a lot more girls now, as compared to the past, who are finishing high school and pursuing a university education. The numbers are still far from where they should be, given the promise of universality of education by Article 25A of the Constitution, but they are much larger than before.

But, at the same time, labour participation rates still show a large gender gap. A lot of women, though much more educated now than previously, still do not enter the workforce. This is even true of those who finish medical education: a far greater number of female doctors stay out of the workforce than male doctors. These are also the facts.

Irrespective of where you go in the country, the shortage of female teachers for mathematics and science is expressed everywhere. Girls high schools, where the teaching of physics, chemistry, biology and advanced mathematics becomes important, and that face this scarcity of female staff, have to either rely on male teachers or not offer science options to their students. The latter option only ensures that the scarcity of female teachers for these subjects continues.

In places female students have no choice but to attend schools for boys to gain access to the teaching of science and mathematics. But this is not a solution for most girls and is not possible in all places, especially when we realise that our state does not really run many co-educational schools at the high school level.

Colleagues have even shown that low-fee private schools, a sector that has seen significant growth over the last couple of decades, also open much more quickly in areas where a public school has, in the years before, educated a crop of girls who are now sitting at home and provide the potential workforce for new schools. Transporting teachers is expensive. Local educated women lower the cost and need for transportation and facilitate the lowering of tuition fees. We are still in the realm of facts.

We are also a very young nation going through a demographic transition. The youth bulge will continue till 2035 at least, with millions of young people entering the age of marriage, child-bearing and employment every year. Everyone agrees that this, potentially, could be a ‘game changer’ for Pakistan. If we are able to educate and train these young people, we would have one amazing mass of human capital and a tremendous workforce at our disposal.

But, if these young people are not educated and/or are not trained, our youth could become a time bomb for us. There is plenty of evidence, from new growth theories, about high returns on investments in human capital (provision of health, education/training, etc) and then for human capital to create the dynamics that can lead us to sustainable and from reasonable to high economic growth.

Pakistan has had periods of high economic growth but we have not been able to sustain these periods. Many analysts believe that the lack of sustainability is linked to the low levels of human capital that are in evidence here: lack of education and skills in our workforce, lack of local ingenuity, and lack of entrepreneurial training and initiative.

It is feared that we are facing another such period where current and future investments in physical infrastructure (such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) might create a growth spurt for sometime but it will be hard to convert this spurt to sustainable growth if we do not have an educated and properly trained workforce.

Some will ask that when we cannot even produce enough jobs for those who are currently entering the workforce, how are we going to cater to larger numbers if a higher percentage of women start entering the labour market. But this has to do with low versus high equilibrium cycles. Low activity produces low number/level of opportunities and so on. Higher levels of activity will create more opportunities as well. In a dynamic sense, expansion can trigger further expansion and this is from where sustainability springs.

Does the entry of educated women, currently not in the workforce, into labour markets, have the potential of transforming Pakistan and its economy? Can it help us move towards sustainable higher growth levels? Some of us believe that it does. If a lot more women were hired as teachers, it could transform the education sector and could, potentially, create a much more educated, trained citizenry and workforce for the future. This is just a small example from one sector.

Participation rates for women are rising, particularly in some urban areas. And we are starting to see some of the potential gains from this higher entry in larger cities. But the rate of increase is low and decreasing gender gaps in education are creating a pool of women that could enter the markets right now. Should public policy take cognisance of the situation and try to purposefully benefit from the opportunity?

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at LUMS, Lahore.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2015